US Continental Congress

U.S. Continental Congress

United States of AmericaJuly 2, 1776 to February 28, 1781

The start of the Second American Republic , “Independence Day,” has been a matter of debate since the U.S. Continental Congress  set July 4th -- and not July 2nd -- as the United States of America’s “birthday.”  Since then, historians have written volumes denoting July 4th as U.S. Independence Day, despite independence having been declared two days earlier with the enactment of Richard Henry Lee ’s Resolution  for Independence:1]

Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. [2]

Additionally, in both the July 2nd and July 4th declarations, New York  abstained, not approving independence of the “more or less” United States until July 9, 1776. [3]

Notwithstanding New York’s July 9th approval, the passage of Lee’s Resolution  and even John Adams letter to Abigail  declaring that “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America, [4] July 4th has been heralded as the birthdate of the United States of America since 1777.  Indeed, July 4th has remained sacrosanct despite the enactment of two distinctly different U.S. Constitutions in 1781 and again in 1789 that reformulated the United States’ federal government. 

Moreover, since July 1776, all major U.S. legislation signed into law ends with words detailing the country’s longevity as an independent nation, similar to those found, for example, in the United States in Congress Assembled ’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of 1782: “Done in Congress, at Philadelphia . The eleventh day of October, in the Year of Our Lord One thousand seven hundred and eighty two, and of our Sovereignty and Independence the seventh. John Hanson  President”  [5]  

Image Courtesy of the Klos Yavneh Collection

This practice, , continued under the current U.S. Constitution well into the 19th Century and beyond, marking the most important documents in American history [6] with similar conclusions.  An excellent example is the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln, which finishes “… and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.” [7]

Image Courtesy of the U. S. National Archives [8]

Similarly, the 20th-Century Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed by John F. Kennedy  “… in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and sixty-three and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and eighty-eighth.”

Nuclear Test Ban Treaty 

Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress

U.S. governmental authorities universally agree that the birth year of the current U.S. Republic is 1776 and not 1781 (when the Articles of Confederation  was ratified), or 1784 (when the Treaty of Paris  was ratified ending the war with Great Britain ), or September 17, 1787 (when the Philadelphia  Convention produced the current U.S. Constitution), or March 4, 1789, when the current tripartite system began to govern the United States of America.  It is remarkable, however, that, while July 4th, 1776, stands as the nation’s birth date John Hancock , the DOI ’s presidential signer, is passed over by the same governmental authorities as the first U.S. Head of State .   
Similarly, Samuel Huntington, the first President under the Articles of Confederation, is also passed over as President of the United States in America in Congress Assembled.  In contrast, these same officials recognize Benjamin Franklin as the first Postmaster General who served not under the current U.S. Constitution but under the colonial resolution known as the Articles of Association from July 26, 1775 to November 10, 1776.
Setting these inconsistencies aside, the question that is most pertinent to this chapter remains: Why does the U.S. Government, since 1777, celebrate the 4th of July as Independence Day and not the 2nd of July?    
When the twelve United Colonies of America  declared their independence on July 2nd the Declaration of Independence (DOI ) was already before the Colonial Continental Congress  for its consideration.  The first draft was read before the delegates on Friday June 28, 1776, and then ordered to lie on the table over the weekend for their review.  On Monday, July 1st, the DOI  was read again to the “Committee of the Whole.”   The DOI  was debated along with the much shorter Lee Resolution.

The 12 Colonies, whose members were empowered to declare independence, were unable to garner the necessary 12 delegation votes to make the measure unanimous.  Accordingly, it was decided to postpone the vote on independence until the following day, July 2nd, and the 12 colonial delegations passed the Lee’s Resolution  declaring their independence from Great Britain .  The DOI , however, was quite another matter; Committee of the Whole Chairman Benjamin Harrison requested more time and the members agreed to continue deliberations following day.  

On July 3rd, the Continental Congress  considered, debated and passed several pressing war resolutions before taking up the DOI  resolution.  Once again, not having sufficient time to finalize the proclamation, Chairman Benjamin Harrison  requested more time and the U.S. Continental Congress  tabled deliberation until the following day.  On the morning of July 4, 1776 the delegates debated and passed the following war resolution: [9]

that an application be made to the committee of safety of Pennsylvania  for a supply of flints for the troops at New York : and that the colony of Maryland  and Delaware be requested to embody their militia for the flying camp, with all expedition, and to march them, without delay, to the city of Philadelphia .[10]

The Continental Congress then took up, finalized, and passed the Declaration of Independence: “Mr. Benjamin Harrison  reported, that the committee of the whole Congress have agreed to a Declaration, which he delivered in.  The Declaration being read again was agreed to …” [11]

The Declaration of Independence  proclaimed why “… these United Colonies are, and, of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States …” [12] and its content served to justify the Colonial Continental Congress July 2nd vote declaring independence. It was the rhetoric in the DOI  and not Lee’s Resolution  that exacted the vote for independence on July 2nd, 1776, from the 12 state delegations.  Moreover, the July 4th, 1776, resolution included naming the Second United American Republic which was not incorporated in Lee’s Resolution.  It is also important to note that the name, United States of America, was not utilized on any of the Continental Congress resolutions or bills passed after Lee’s Resolution  on July 2nd up until the passage of the DOI  on July 4th, 1776.
It is true that in Thomas Jefferson’s DOI  drafts, the word “States” was substituted for “Colonies” in the stile, or name, “United Colonies of America .”   It is also true that Jefferson’s substitution was in accordance with Lee’s Resolution  that asserted the United Colonies” were to be free and independent States.”  The new republic was not named the “United States,” however, until the Declaration of Independence ’s adoption on July 4, 1776. 
The naming of this new republic was no small matter, and the topic would be addressed again in later deliberations on the Articles of Confederation and the current U.S. Constitution. [13]   As noted earlier, the 1775 Articles of Confederation and Declaration for Taking up Arms initially named the First United American Republic the United Colonies of North America .  The name was only shortened by the Continental Congress  to the United Colonies of America  in 1776. We must, therefore, pay heed to the fact that the nation’s name was adopted on July 4th, 1776, with the passage of the Declaration of Independence  and not on July 2nd with the enactment of Lee’s Resolution .  This circumstance, coupled with the nearly completed Declaration of Independence being laid before the members on June 28th   and present during the July 2nd vote, explicates why the 4th and not the 2nd was designated Independence Day by the Continental Congress and was accepted as such by the then future congresses of the United States of America.  

Nevertheless, for the purposes of establishing the start of the Second United American Republic, we must be more precise in our determination.  The United Colonies of America  severed their allegiance to Great Britain  on July 2nd, 1776.  The new independent republic of free and independent states enacted resolutions [14] on the Second, Third, and Fourth of July before passing the Declaration of Independence . This Assembly, just like Carpenters’ Hall ’s unnamed Congress, [15] formed a United American Republic by enacting bills, resolutions and other legislation on behalf of their now independent states. July 2nd, 1776, therefore, marks the end of the United Colonies of America and the beginning of the Second United American Republic: The United States of America, Thirteen Independent States United in Congress.

Having established the starting point for the Second United American Republic, we – like the Continental Congress  – should turn to a consideration of that Republic’s governance.  As we shall see, the process of articulating the document that became the “Articles of Confederation ” was not simple.  Moreover, although this first constitution of the United States of America was passed by the Continental Congress on November 15th, 1777, the Articles required unanimous ratification.  For three years the Continental Congress would govern under a body of laws that were co-mingled with the future laws in the Articles of Confederation.

Neil Ronk, Senior Guide and Historian of the Christ Church Preservation Trust holds up John Dunlap's 1777 York-Town printing of the 1776 Journals of Congress flanked by NCHC Honors Students. The Journals have been opened to July 2nd 1776, marking the passage of the Resolution for Independency. - For more information visit our National Park and NCHC Partners in the Park Class of 2017 website
With the passage of Lee’s Resolution  and the Declaration of Independence , the U.S. Continental Congress  was now faced with the challenge of transforming the voluminous United Colonies’ legislation into a U.S. Constitution capable of uniting and governing the 13 independent states.   Even before the acceptance of those two momentous documents, the matter of drafting a constitution gained the serious attention of Congress on June 12th, 1776, when it resolved to appoint a committee of thirteen to prepare a draft constitution for the new republic:

Resolved, that the committee to prepare and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between these colonies, consist of a member from each colony:
·         for New Hampshire  ... Mr. [Josiah] Bartlett
·         Massachusetts  ... Mr. S[amuel] Adams
·         Rhode Island  ... Mr. [Stephen] Hopkins
·         Connecticut ... Mr. [Roger] Sherman
·         New York ... Mr. R[obert R.] Livingston
·         New Jersey … 
·         Pennsylvania  ... Mr. [John] Dickinson
·         Delaware ... Mr. [Thomas] McKean
·         Maryland ... Mr. [Thomas] Stone
·         Virginia ... Mr. [Thomas] Nelson
·         North Carolina  ... Mr. [Joseph] Hewes
·         S. Carolina ... Mr. [Edward] Rutledge
·         Georgia ... Mr. [Button] Gwinnett [16]

On July 12th, 1776, the committee presented the first draft Articles of Confederation  of the United States of America.  The Continental Congress resolved:

That eighty copies, and no more, of the confederation, as brought in by the committee, be immediately printed, and deposited with the secretary, who shall deliver one copy to each member: That a committee be appointed to superintend the press, who shall take care that the foregoing resolution [Articles of Confederation ].

That the printer be under oath to deliver all the copies, which he shall print, together with the copy sheet, to the secretary, and not to disclose either directly or indirectly, the contents of the said confederation: That no member furnish any person with his copy, or take any steps by which the said confederation may be re-printed, and that the secretary be under the like injunction. [17]

National Collegiate Honor’s Council Partners in the Park Independence Hall Class of 2017 students at Independence Hall with Ranger Jay holding the September 1787, American Museum printing of the U.S. Constitution and Ranger Ed Welch holding John Dunlap's 1776 Journals of Congress opened, respectively to the U.S. Constitution of 1787 and Declaration of Independence. They are flanked by National Collegiate Honors Council Students and NCHC President, Dr. Naomi Yavneh Klos - – For more information visit our National Park and NCHC Partners in the Park Class of 2017 website
Congress Site - Continued Here

Continental Congress of the United States Presidents
July 2, 1776 to February 28, 1781

July 2, 1776
October 29, 1777
November 1, 1777
December 9, 1778
December 10, 1778
September 28, 1779
September 29, 1779
February 28, 1781

Commander-in-Chief United Colonies & States of America

George Washington: June 15, 1775 - December 23, 1783

Chart Comparing Presidential Powers  - Click Here

United Colonies and States First Ladies


United Colonies Continental Congress
18th Century Term
09/05/74 – 10/22/74
Mary Williams Middleton (1741- 1761) Deceased
Henry Middleton
05/20/ 75 - 05/24/75
05/25/75 – 07/01/76
United States Continental Congress
07/02/76 – 10/29/77
Eleanor Ball Laurens (1731- 1770) Deceased
Henry Laurens
11/01/77 – 12/09/78
Sarah Livingston Jay (1756-1802)
12/ 10/78 – 09/28/78
Martha Huntington (1738/39–1794)
09/29/79 – 02/28/81
United States in Congress Assembled
Martha Huntington (1738/39–1794)
03/01/81 – 07/06/81
07/10/81 – 11/04/81
Jane Contee Hanson (1726-1812)
11/05/81 - 11/03/82
11/03/82 - 11/02/83
Sarah Morris Mifflin (1747-1790)
11/03/83 - 11/02/84
11/20/84 - 11/19/85
11/23/85 – 06/06/86
Rebecca Call Gorham (1744-1812)
06/06/86 - 02/01/87
02/02/87 - 01/21/88
01/22/88 - 01/29/89

Constitution of 1787
First Ladies
April 30, 1789 – March 4, 1797
March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801
Martha Wayles Jefferson Deceased
September 6, 1782  (Aged 33)
March 4, 1809 – March 4, 1817
March 4, 1817 – March 4, 1825
March 4, 1825 – March 4, 1829
December 22, 1828 (aged 61)
February 5, 1819 (aged 35)
March 4, 1841 – April 4, 1841
April 4, 1841 – September 10, 1842
June 26, 1844 – March 4, 1845
March 4, 1845 – March 4, 1849
March 4, 1849 – July 9, 1850
July 9, 1850 – March 4, 1853
March 4, 1853 – March 4, 1857
March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865
February 22, 1862 – May 10, 1865
April 15, 1865 – March 4, 1869
March 4, 1869 – March 4, 1877
March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1881
March 4, 1881 – September 19, 1881
January 12, 1880 (Aged 43)
June 2, 1886 – March 4, 1889
March 4, 1889 – October 25, 1892
June 2, 1886 – March 4, 1889
March 4, 1897 – September 14, 1901
September 14, 1901 – March 4, 1909
March 4, 1909 – March 4, 1913
March 4, 1913 – August 6, 1914
December 18, 1915 – March 4, 1921
March 4, 1921 – August 2, 1923
August 2, 1923 – March 4, 1929
March 4, 1929 – March 4, 1933
March 4, 1933 – April 12, 1945
April 12, 1945 – January 20, 1953
January 20, 1953 – January 20, 1961
January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963
November 22, 1963 – January 20, 1969
January 20, 1969 – August 9, 1974
August 9, 1974 – January 20, 1977
January 20, 1977 – January 20, 1981
January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989
January 20, 1989 – January 20, 1993
January 20, 1993 – January 20, 2001
January 20, 2001 – January 20, 2009
January 20, 2009 to date

[1] Hereinafter referred to as the Lee’s Resolution.
[2] Op Cit, June 7, 1776
[3] On July 9th, 1776 the New York  Provincial Congress assembled in the White Plains Court House and adopted the July 4, 1776 resolution heartedly supported by John Jay  who had rushed from New York City to address that body: “That reasons assigned by the Continental Congress  for declaring The United Colonies Free and Independent States are cogent and conclusive, and that now we approve the same, and will at the risque of our lives and fortunes, join with the other colonies in supporting it.”  - New York Provincial Congress, Resolution supporting the Declaration of Independence , July 9, 1776.

[4] Letter from John Adams  to Abigail  Adams, 3 July 1776. Original manuscript from the Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society. “But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
[5] John Hanson, “United States in Congress Assembled  Proclamation. “The Freeman’s Journal, October 16, 1782, Number LXXVII, p. 3.
[6] In the first three United American Republics, the signature of U.C. and U.S. Presidents are not required to enact any Congressional legislation.    These founding presidents, unlike the current U.S. Presidents, had one vote in their respective state delegations in the “one state one vote” unicameral congressional system. In the Fourth American Republic , Article I of the Current U.S. Constitution requires every bill, order, resolution or other act of legislation by the Congress of the United States to be presented to the U.S. President for his approval. The President can either sign it into law, return the bill to the originating house of Congress with his objections to the bill (a veto), or neither sign nor return it to Congress.  If he does the latter and Congress remains in session for ten days exempting Sundays, the bill becomes law.  If during those ten days Congress adjourns than the bill does not become a law.
[7] Emancipation Proclamation , January 1, 1863, Original Manuscript, The Charters of Freedom, US National Archives and Records Administration.
[8] Ibid.
[9] A Committee of the Whole is a device in which a legislative body or other deliberative assembly is considered one large committee.
[10] JCC, 1774-1789, July 4, 1776
[11] Ibid.
[12] JCC, 1774-1789, July 2, 1776
[13] At the Philadelphia  Convention on May 30, 1787, Virginia Governor and member Edmund Randolph moved to rename the United States, the “National Government of America.”  This name would remain as part of the current U.S. Constitution draft until June 20th, 1787, when it was moved by Mr. Oliver Ellsworth, seconded by Mr. Nathaniel Gorham “… to amend the first resolution reported from the Committee of the whole House so as to read as follows -- namely, Resolved that the government of the United States ought to consist of a Supreme Legislative, Judiciary, and Executive. On the question to agree to the amendment it passed unanimously in the affirmative.” Max Farrand, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911.
[14] After the passage of Lee's resolution the Continental Congress  enacted that "In obedience to their order, Captain Whipple and Captain Saltonstal were come to Philadelphia ; Whereupon, Resolved, That the Marine Committee be directed to enquire into the complaints exhibited against them, and report to Congress."  On the third of July seven different resolutions were passed, and finally on the Fourth of July they “Resolved, That an application be made to the committee of safety of Pennsylvania  for a supply of flints for the troops at New York : and that the colony of Maryland  and Delaware  be requested to embody their militia for the flying camp, with all expedition, and to march them, without delay, to the city of Philadelphia.”  All were enacted before the Declaration of Independence was adopted. Journals of the Continental Congress, July 2-4, 1776.
[15] On September 5, 1774 the delegates first assembled at Carpenters Hall but did not formalize the name of that body as a “Continental Congress,” until October 20, 1784.
[16] JCC, 1774-1789, Wednesday June 12, 1776.
[17] JCC, July 12, 1776

Capitals of the United Colonies and States of America

Sept. 5, 1774 to Oct. 24, 1774
May 10, 1775 to Dec. 12, 1776
Dec. 20, 1776 to Feb. 27, 1777
March 4, 1777 to Sept. 18, 1777
September 27, 1777
Sept. 30, 1777 to June 27, 1778
July 2, 1778 to June 21, 1783
June 30, 1783 to Nov. 4, 1783
Nov. 26, 1783 to Aug. 19, 1784
Nov. 1, 1784 to Dec. 24, 1784
New York City
Jan. 11, 1785 to Nov. 13, 1788
New York City
October 6, 1788 to March 3,1789
New York City
March 3,1789 to August 12, 1790
Dec. 6,1790 to May 14, 1800       
Washington DC
November 17,1800 to Present

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